‘To have and to hold from this day forward’
February 10, 2022
National Marriage Week, Feb. 7 to Feb. 14, and World Marriage Day, Feb. 13, are part of the events surrounding Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love.
Many people think of love in terms of romance. But Catholics, particularly in marriage, seek a deeper love, a self-sacrificing love, based on the love Jesus has for his Church.
Couples in their wedding vows promise to be faithful “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
We celebrate that fidelity and love by sharing the story of Jim and Theresa Krajicek of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, who have been married for 35 years, despite bad times, despite life-altering sickness.
The romance of Jim Krajicek and Theresa Polsley began in December 1984 at a laundromat in Peru, Nebraska.
Jim, a left tackle with the Peru State College football team, was known for his outrageous style, with his pierced ear, his grandfather’s clothes and the spiked track shoes he wore to class.
He was known for some outrageous behavior as well.
At first Theresa didn’t want anything to do with him.
She relented, though, when Jim, the campus mailman, noticed that she was at the laundromat and stopped by in an old rusty mail van to ask her out.
For their first date she made him dinner, then they went to a movie.
The romance quickly blossomed into love, and after six months they became engaged.
A year and half later, on Nov. 22, 1986, they were married at St. Philip Neri Church in Omaha, vowing to remain together for life. She was 23. He was 22.
Like any young married couple, they had no idea what was ahead for them.
For the Krajiceks, now members of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, their future included the joy of having five children and many friends, but also the sorrow of having a seriously ill baby, two miscarriages, fertility problems, an uprooting because of a job change and some squabbles and tensions.
But certainly the hardest cross of all was a debilitating stroke that struck Jim at age 48. It turned the lives of each family member upside down.
The Krajiceks have learned to adapt, praying throughout their ordeals and still finding blessings in life. Ten years after the stroke and after 35 years of marriage, the love that began at a laundromat still blooms.
Theresa admits that their marriage has been less than perfect, with its share of problems.
“I don’t want you to paint any picture that we’re some ideal, wonderful family, because we’re not,” said Theresa during an interview at the Krajicek’s home in Papillion. “You can’t write as though we’re some flowery, wonderful couple, please. Because we’re not. We’re just like everybody else.”
Despite what Theresa said, the Krajiceks have had unique challenges. Jim’s stroke has left him unable to walk and care for himself and barely able to talk. Theresa is his chief caregiver and rarely leaves his side.
The once fiercely independent husband relies on his wife and others for some of the most mundane tasks. His communication is limited to a few words and facial gestures, such as fluttering his eyelids to mean “yes.”
They discussed the ups and downs of their 35-year-old marriage, with Theresa having to do the talking, looking to Jim to affirm the answers to some questions.
The two began their marriage living in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where Jim had just started graduate school at Southeast Missouri State University. He had graduated from Peru State with a bachelor’s degree in biology and would complete a master’s degree in chemistry and toxicology at Southeast Missouri State.
Theresa, equipped with a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Peru State, continued her teaching career, which later took her briefly to St. Bonaventure School in Columbus and Christ the King School in Omaha.
The Krajiceks had their first child, Annie, in 1989, after moving back to Nebraska.
She weighed just 3½ pounds at birth and was diagnosed with a genetic disorder. Annie was hospitalized as a newborn for four weeks.
“I think that was one of the times that we were the very closest,” Theresa said. “It was kind of like glue for us, just because we needed each other so badly. And I think God was part of that.”
She described the Lord’s presence at that time as “heavy.” “I just don’t know how to say it,” Theresa said. “We felt this different feeling, different than anything we’d ever felt.”
Their next child, Katie, was born in 1993, after a miscarriage and some fertility issues.
“After we had such trouble getting pregnant with Katie, we in our young minds were like, well great. We have these two little girls, and we didn’t think we were going to be able to have any more. … Well, then two years later (in 1995) we had Meghan.”
By that time, the Krajiceks had moved to Papillion and became part of St. Columbkille Parish. A son, Joe, was born in 1997, followed by another miscarriage.
“We really felt our community then,” Theresa said. She and Jim became aware of the miscarriage at what would have been about 12 weeks of gestation.
“We had just told people” about the pregnancy, she said. An ultrasound indicated that the baby probably had died at 10 weeks of gestation. “And that was really hard.”
The people of St. Columbkille helped the Krajiceks in their pain, “when our friends, the kids’ school family, they put their arms around us. … They just got me through it, and I think they got Jim and the kids through it.”
After the pregnancy difficulties, the arrival of their fifth child, Tessa, in 2004 “was pure joy,” Theresa said.
“I recommend a tail-ender to everybody,” the mother said. “We call her a tail-ender. We never call her an oops. And I get mad when people do that. She’s the one who completed our family.”
GRAND ISLAND BLESSINGS
A career move for Jim, who had previously worked for public utility companies, landed the family in Grand Island in 2011.
Theresa said she didn’t want to move at first, but the family quickly felt at home there.
“I think that God led us to Grand Island,” she said. “God did have a plan for us. That was not like anything we thought was going to happen, but good things came from moving to Grand Island.”
Meghan and Joe were enrolled at Grand Island Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School.
“Central Catholic was very welcoming to us,” Theresa said. “We were there about a year, and then Jim had his stroke on Aug. 2, 2012. It’s coming up on 10 years, a day that will live in infamy in my mind.
“They opened their arms like this,” Theresa said as she stretched her arms out wide, “and then they did this,” she said, enfolding her arms in a hug.
“People have been just wonderful to us,” she said. “Moving to Grand Island was so far the hardest thing I thought I would ever do. And leaving Grand Island was almost as hard. I was very torn.”
Jim was 48 when he suffered his stroke.
Both he and Theresa had been at work that day.
“I can remember, it’s kind of vivid, that we were telling each other about our day,” Theresa said. “He’d had lunch with a friend. It was just nice. He said he was going to go change his clothes.”
About five minutes later, after he’d changed, Jim “wanted me to get his blood pressure medicine, which he normally took at night. So I went and got that for you,” she said, turning to Jim as she spoke.
She got him some Excedrin for his headache, which “was just extreme,” Theresa said. “He wanted me to rub his head.”
She said she remembers pushing on one temple, while Tessa pushed on the other. “At a certain point, I was like, something’s not right, but I don’t know what it is.”
Theresa asked Jim if he was having a heart attack. He replied “No, I’m fine. I just need to lie down.”
“I said ‘I think we need to take you to the hospital.’” Jim said he needed a hot shower. “‘I need a hot shower, a shower.”
“That’s all he could say,” Theresa said.
“He got up a little bit, and then he fell down in the hallway. Then I knew something was bad.”
When she called 911, she was told to have him squeeze her hands, a test he failed. Then she knew. It was a stroke.
“So the ambulance came, and I remember we had Joe take Tessa over to the neighbor. We didn’t want her to see everything. She told us years later that she saw the ambulance and the firetruck.” She had just turned 8.
“I think all the kids were there that day,” Theresa said.
A LONG NIGHT
At the hospital, “they took him back and they wouldn’t let me go in the room with him. Then the chaplain came and took me in a different room, and it’s like you have this out-of-body experience because you suddenly realize that everybody doesn’t go into the special room with the chaplain.
“And I said, do I need to get my kids up here?”
“Yes, you do,” the chaplain replied.
“Do I need to get his family?”
“And he said, ‘Yes, you do.’”
Theresa was then allowed to see Jim. She told the chaplain that she wanted a priest to administer the Sacrament of the Sick. Jim received the sacrament before heading into surgery.
Theresa’s aunt and cousin were among the first to arrive at the hospital. Within hours, family and friends took over a waiting room.
“So we had a long night,” Theresa said. “We stayed up all night in the waiting room. … And it was getting a little crazy in the room. I kind of got everybody quiet, and I said ‘I think we need to come together and pray. Can we pray the rosary?’
“Jim and I were not big rosary pray-ers, but it was like that was the thing to do.”
Theresa recruited a friend from Hastings, who had played football with Jim, to lead the prayers. His wife “whipped out a rosary and a little card out of her purse, handed it to him, and bam,” the rosary began, Theresa said.
After the surgery, a health care worker stopped in as Jim was being moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit. The woman told Theresa that she could see her husband in about a half hour, once he got settled in.
The woman left, but had to turn around immediately. “I need Mrs. Krajicek. I need Mrs. Krajicek to come with me now.”
“She took me to his room, and the surgeon was there, and it was like a soap opera,” Theresa said.
“We’re standing at the end of his bed. He’s directing this team of people. He said ‘Your husband’s very, very sick.’
“Well, yeah, I know,” she thought. “But when doctors say that, they mean this is really serious right now, this is worse than what you think, like they told us when we had a very sick little girl when Annie was born.
“I think that what happened was they almost lost him bringing him up,” Theresa said, “and they were doing all this stuff to keep him alive. … Later I kind of realized that, you know, my husband almost died at that point. That’s why they had me come in there.”
Jim remembers little from the onset of the stroke, Theresa said. But she has since asked him about his near-death experience.
“I said ‘You know, I’ve heard of people who have had those out-of-body experiences, when they’re floating above their bed.’ And I said, ‘Did you ever have that?’ And he blinked yes. Right away. I just asked him, ‘Did you see anybody? Who did you see? He blinked that he had seen people, and I kind of guessed. I said ‘Did you see your dad?’ because his dad died when Jim was 25. And he said that he saw his dad and Jesus. They said it would be OK.”
“I know that not everybody believes that when I say that story, but I think it’s true,” Theresa said.
‘THE ROAD HOME’
After his hospital stay in Grand Island, Jim was moved to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln for eight weeks.
He was making progress, speaking a few words, moving his arm enough for a hug and getting some motion in his legs.
“We thought he was on the road home,” Theresa said.
Then Jim suffered a second stroke, possibly on Dec. 12, 2012. “But nobody knew it at the time because he still couldn’t talk,” his wife said. “It just wiped out everything that he had regained.”
Jim’s next move was to Ankeny, Iowa, for more rehabilitation at a care center that specialized in brain and stroke injuries. He remained there until July 2013, but he wasn’t able to regain much function, Theresa said.
“Then all of a sudden it was like, well, he’s going to be moving back home with you in about two weeks.”
Theresa said she wasn’t sure if she was up to the task, but she had help waiting in their driveway when they got home.
“And we found out how many people we knew in Grand Island,” she said.
Nurses volunteered to help him transition to home. Before Jim even arrived, a professor they had known in college installed a wheelchair ramp in their garage.
“We brought you home, Jim,” Theresa said, again addressing her husband, “and we just started to learn about our new life. We called it the new normal because that’s the sort of cliché phrase that they call it, and that’s what you do. We just got through it.”
The first weeks at home were difficult, she said. “It’s hard on your body. It’s hard on your heart. It’s just hard on everything.”
“Luckily I didn’t have to work,” said Theresa, who had been working as an aide at Grand Island High School. “He had really good benefits, which made it so I didn’t have to work.”
Soon the family adjusted to their new lives and were able to get back to some old routines.
“We got to a place where we took him places,” Theresa said. “He’d go to therapy, and I’d take him to the kids’ games and track meets. … We would just go because we could. He didn’t miss too many things.”
“We got used to people staring at us with pity or fear or looking through us like we’re invisible because they couldn’t handle it,” Theresa said. “We still get a lot of that. People don’t know what to say, and they don’t know what to do.”
The Krajiceks moved back to Papillion and St. Columbkille Parish in 2016, after their children Meghan and Joe finished high school.
The St. Columbkille community stretched out its arms and embraced the Krajiceks, similar to what the Grand Island Central Catholic community did, she said.
A neighbor, Angie Eidem and her family, of St. Columbkille Parish, have been available for support, Theresa said.
Theresa’s high school friend, Joanne Swanson of St. Joseph Parish in Springfield, prays the rosary with Jim on most Mondays. At first her visits were awkward, she confessed to Theresa. “Now she does it, and she kind of looks forward to it.”
Stephen Visek, a retired neighbor and St. Columbkille parishioner, reads the newspaper to Jim twice a week.
“He’s one of the friends that Jim has made after his stroke,” Theresa said. “He tells me what sports games are on that I should have Jim watch, because I don’t always know. He’s really become a gift to our whole family. I thought that God moving me next to Angie was the biggest gift, but I think Steve’s become this big brother that I never had.”
THE WORST THING
The family still struggles with the effects of the stroke, the highs and lows that go along with it.
“After we moved back here in 2016, Jim started to have some words come back,” Theresa said. “He can still say ‘I love you,’ but he has to be prompted because of the way his brain is hurt. He can’t initiate that, but he can reply to that. I know he has a lot that he would want to say, but that’s the most important thing.”
“I think the hardest thing for Jim has been the wrongs that he did with his kids,” she said. “He’s not really able to make that right. … He was hard on our kids. … He can’t make amends that he may want to make.”
“I always say, especially if you’re a man, you’ve got to tell the people you love that you love them. They have to know. What if I could never say anything to you again? … I think that is the worst thing for him, and probably for me to watch that.”
“If we could have one thing back, it would be only to talk,” Theresa said. “Of course, I’d like the whole package. His mom prayed until she died that God would heal him. I think he probably has been healed, but not the way we see it. I think that Jim’s heart has been healed.”
As a couple they had struggled before the stroke, Theresa said.
“It was very hard,” she said. “I think our kids are what kept us together. And I think that going to church every Sunday, even if we were fighting all the way there, somehow that was our common denominator, because we went to church together from the time we started dating. We were not those people who quit going to church and then came back after they had kids. We just always went to church, probably out of Catholic guilt, but we did. Right, Jim? We did.
“We definitely had our struggles.”
A TEST OF FAITH
The ordeal of the stroke has tested the family’s faith, Theresa said.
“I wish I could say it’s really made us stronger, but it has not, for me,” she said. “I would say that the first few years, it (her faith) was very much strengthened, because that’s all I had. I mean, you’re just hanging on by a thread of sanity.
“Every morning you wake up and talk to God. I think as it’s progressed, it’s gotten harder, because it’s been hard to explain to the kids,” she said. “You know, we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed. And so many people have prayed for his healing, and we’re not getting what we define as that.
“How do you explain that to your kids? You see their faith shaken. We’re just going through probably one of the darkest chapters, faith wise, that we’ve ever gone through, that we never thought we would have to go through, at least for me.
“But we’re not giving up, for sure.”
“I’m still working through it, I guess, and I think that’s OK. It’s like when you’re married, sometimes you have really great chapters. Sometimes you have really crappy chapters. Maybe that’s how faith is. Maybe I just wasn’t challenged in the same way until this happened.”
“What do you think, Jim? Do you have trouble with your faith?”
Yes, he blinked.
“Do you still talk to God?”
Again he blinked yes.
“I like to think Jim’s prayers are better than ours,” Theresa said.
“When you’re praying, do you pray those rote prayers that you’ve memorized?” she asked.
Yes, he blinked.
“Do you also just talk to God? Do you think God talks back to you?”
Yes, and yes, Jim blinked.
THE LITTLE THINGS
“I think we’ve definitely grown,” Theresa said. “I think we’ve learned what’s important and what’s not. I can look back and say there are a lot of mistakes that we made, you know, the things we should have done that we didn’t do, like date nights. The things we fought about, some of it was just stupid. The things that were legit that we fought about, we should have fought in different, better ways.”
“Would you say that’s true, Jim? Do you wish that you hadn’t fought with me all the time?”
Yes, he blinked.
“Was I right all the time?”
Yes, he blinked, with a growing smile.
“Oh, bingo,” Theresa said with a laugh. “Are you just saying the right answers? There’s a lot of little things, right? You’re like, don’t sweat the little things.”
“Now we get through things, and our life is a lot quieter now, partly due to COVID, but there’s not a lot of places we go, and there’s not a lot of people who come over,” she said. We’ve lost many things. We’ve lost friends who can’t come over because they can’t handle it. We’ve missed things with our kids that other people almost take for granted.”
Theresa did get to travel in November to Boise, Idaho, to see their daughter Katie. “And it was a huge thing for me to get to do that. It’s harder for me to have her so far away because I can’t just go whenever I want to.”
“I guess we still have fun,” she said. “We still enjoy things and people. It’s just different than what we thought it was going to be. Right, Jim?”
“I think that between Pinterest and social media, we see things that we think our life should be like. And I have a hard time with it. I will get so jealous of certain families that I have to say, ‘Theresa, stop.’ You know? Because it’s picture perfect, and I know in my brain that it’s not picture perfect.”
No family is ever perfect, she said. “I think you do more harm to people by faking it.”
“I think we’re lucky,” Theresa said. “In a lot of ways we’re unlucky, but we’re also really lucky. We’re blessed. Some things you don’t understand, and we’ll never understand it. I know that when I get to heaven, God and I are going to sit down and have coffee, and he’s going to explain it all to me, and it’ll be fine.
“Then he’s going to open up a beautiful scrapbook of all the photos I didn’t take of my kids, so I don’t have to feel bad about how I didn’t do that stuff. … I think I’ll be able to see it all in a lifetime, because we’re outside of time. So I think we can kind of float around and see things we want to see and skip over what we don’t want to see.
“But I know that he’s going to have coffee with me. He’s going to hug me and say ‘It’s OK, girl.”
“I still have lots of talks with God. We just talk.”
At St. Columbkille, Theresa teaches religious education to first-graders. In a recent class they talked about how God already knows what they want and need.
“It was a good reminder because sometimes you don’t even know what to pray for,” she said. “I just don’t know what to say. I think God just has his arms wrapped around us, too, even if we don’t always feel it.
“You think, Jim? I think so.”